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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Meet RSM 90-90-9 Winner: David Campbell

David Campbell | Consulting Supervisor | Boston, MA
During my first summer as an employee I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful sub-Saharan African country of Cameroon. The context was a visit to a friend in the Peace Corps who focused on cultivating a community farm, and as part of my visit I spent time working on the farm in preparation for the harvest. It was through this experience that I was able to see first-hand an example of the ingenuity possessed by many across the continent.

One afternoon a young boy (whom we called Calvin) who was helping on the farm ran over to a mango tree on the walk home, and began to climb it with a stick he’d fashioned into a kind of sword. Moments later mangoes began to rain down from the branches, until enough had accumulated on the ground. After climbing down Calvin then took off his shirt, filled it with the felled mangoes and loaded them into his expertly tied shirt which he then placed on his head. Two miles later when we returned to the village, Calvin went house to house until every mango had been sold.

Unfortunately for many individuals in developing countries this enterprising attitude is without an outlet, due to a general lack of opportunity and resources. Most notable is electricity, to which an estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access, roughly half of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. Another 700+ million in the region rely on dangerous and inefficient forms of energy, such as solid biomass, leading to indoor air pollution and often deadly fires. Among these people are millions like Calvin who have the inventiveness, ambition and intelligence to make better lives for themselves and their families, but are limited by an inability to tap into commercial markets via phones and computers as well as health problems arising from the dangerous energy alternatives upon which they currently rely.

Energy sources and policies have always been of special interest to me, given the incredibly significant worldwide impact that they have economically, geopolitically, ethically and environmentally. As part of my senior thesis as a student at Boston College, I explored these implications by studying the renewable energy investments made by Texas and Massachusetts. Both states have implemented Renewable Portfolio Standards which stipulate for the state’s utilities what proportion of electricity generated and sold to consumers must come from renewable sources, and both have illustrated a) the enormous potential for clean energy capacity, which is even more exaggerated in sun-soaked sub-Saharan Africa, and b) the resulting benefits in the form of eventually lower recurring energy costs, cleaner air, reduced reliance on oil-producing nations in the Middle East, and growth in domestic green energy industry. All of these potential benefits exist in developing Africa, an area which desperately needs the economic growth that investment in and availability of clean energy can provide.

One very promising source of such clean electricity is solar power. The abundance of sunlight makes photovoltaic panels extremely effective, and advances in conversion and storage technologies have drastically lowered the end user costs to purchase and install the panels. A company that has made incredible progress in spreading solar power to rural areas is M-KOPA, which as of this year has provided energy access to more than 250,000 off-grid homes in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania with its ‘pay-as-you-go’ system. Customers make an up-front deposit for the PV unit, in addition to daily payments for a year after which they own the unit outright. Based on the economics the company estimates households save $750 over a four-year as compared to kerosene purchases, savings which do not consider the very significant health benefits of eliminating kerosene usage and the resulting air pollution.

My proposal is to work with M-KOPA or a similar organization to obtain and distribute these solar units, to households, businesses and administration buildings which will be identified using networks established through my prior visit to Cameroon, as well as through organizations devoted to the cause. One such organization is the Solar Electric Light Fund, a nonprofit which has completed projects in more than 20 countries over 25 years. The budget attached illustrates that as many as 200 units can be distributed, all the while providing opportunities to speak and connect with local communities to identify specific needs and teach about the mechanics of the equipment and the opportunities it can provide. Given the scale of this initiative a significant portion of the time and effort required to carry it out will need to occur prior to being on site; thus the two-week trip represents only a portion of the total investment, and the coordination to identify recipients and acquire and distribute units will occur prior to the departure date. I have already begun to identify companies and NGO’s which have presences in the region to make this process most efficient and effective and will continue to do so. Additionally the distribution process will likely require more than the two-week trip, and partnering with these organizations will allow for it to occur organically over the necessary time period, so that my time on site can be focused on development and issue resolution. Given that the daily financing cost of 40 KSh/day ($0.40) is less than the average daily cost of kerosene, these payments will be the responsibility of the user.

As fortunate as we are, it’s often easy to overlook the threats and dangers faced by hundreds of millions of Africans, from severe air pollution to the presence and influence of terrorist groups. One of the most effective ways to combat these threats is to help improve local economics and opportunities, and the distribution of clean electricity represents a uniquely affordable way to achieve just that.

Thank you for this opportunity. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that is so seriously committed to its employees and their values, and I am excited at the prospect of displaying these values of respect, integrity, teamwork, excellence and stewardship as I pursue my passion.

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